The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)
NO SPOILERS OR ANY PLOT DETAILS
10 years ago, George Lucas put what we thought was the final nail in the Star Wars coffin with Revenge of the Sith, the culmination of the hugely disappointing prequels that laid waste to all that Star Wars was in the first place. Simply put, the series is best known for its fun factor, providing numerous breathtaking sequences with an expansive universe of lore and some of the most imaginative design ever seen. Who better then to resurrect Star Wars than JJ Abrams, fresh from his successful rebirth of Star Trek (though let's not dwell on its sequel, Into Darkness, for too long).
With The Force Awakens, Abrams brings back to the series what Lucas had been trying to do for years: pure, unadulterated fun. The directing style is ambitious in the best possible way, drawing the viewer right into the heart of every scene and amplifying the impact of every exchange and battle. What really stands out from the very first scene too is the vibrancy of the film, with lush landscapes, dark wastelands and endless deserts perfectly complimenting the tone of each sequence.
The new cast of characters all feel very natural and instantly well fitting to the universe, with one notable exception. While John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all impressed, I was less convinced by Daisy Ridley as heroine Rey and was surprised by the high praise she has so far garnered for her role. Much of her delivery felt unnatural and even a little forced while her body language was at times almost a little distracting. Hopefully we will see her flourish in films to come.
By far the highlight of The Force Awakens though was Kylo Ren (Driver), the perfect villain to follow up Darth Vader with. Menacing and imposing, Driver nailed the essence of a villain who is far from black and white in his characterisation. Even the stormtroopers, eponymous with clumsy shooting and slow thinking, felt largely more human and even relatable on some level.
Much of Episode 7 felt genuine and impactful, perhaps due to the fact that real locations and models were favoured over CGI, something which the prequels went completely overboard with to the point of looking like a bad PS1 game. Every frame felt full of ideas and Abrams is clearly only scratching the surface of what is to come.
Of course, many old characters return to the series, most notably Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) who sadly felt a little unnatural in their exchanges together. I could have done with a little less of them and more of Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis, who ticked all the boxes in each of their roles but were sadly rather underused. Beyond that, fans will be pleased by the amount of homages to the originals and lack of reference to the prequels.
Sadly, as the film wore on, a number of the character appearances felt somewhat pointless and for the sole purpose of doing lip service to the originals, which can only be pulled off a certain amount of times before growing a little tiresome (as Jurassic World knows only too well). However, it is important to make clear that for every lacklustre idea were five other breathtaking moments, amplified by the excellent score from the returning John Williams and striking cinematography that really emphasised the impressive scale of the film.
JJ Abrams has crafted what the Star Wars series deserved. Enough characters to shake a lightsaber at, many memorable moments and an overall atmosphere of warmth and exhilaration meant the film felt justly similar to the originals to the relief of many. The Force Awakens is good enough to make you look past the huge budget and corporations and appreciate the childlike wonder and passion that went into the film. Perhaps most exciting is the legacy that it has created and the universe that it has reopened to be further explored in years to come. An excellent rebirth and a terrific touchstone for future films.